VICKSBURG, Miss.— An employee with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor spoke at a virtual event April 8 to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Ross Alter, a research meteorologist in the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, spoke to more than 100 ERDC employees who signed on for his online talk, “The Holocaust: What was it, why did it happen, and… why should I care?”
“I’m Jewish, and several of my relatives were part of the Holocaust. Some survived, but many passed away,” Alter explained. “My grandfather survived, and if it weren’t for him surviving, I wouldn’t be here. I’m dedicating this to him.”
During his hour-long presentation, Alter shared the historical background leading up to the Holocaust, as well as stories of concentration camps, killing centers and the liberation of persecuted Jews and others who were deemed at that time by Nazis as “undesirable.” According to numbers Alter presented from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 17 million people were killed during the Holocaust—including Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, Germans with mental and physical disabilities, political opponents of the Nazi party and so many more.
Alter’s paternal grandfather, Herbert Alter, was 16 years old when he was initially taken by the Nazis in April 1944 during the Jewish holiday of Passover. He was taken to the largest concentration and extermination camp—Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1.1 million men, women and children were killed.
“Unfortunately, my grandfather was the only one in his direct family who survived,” Alter said. “His mother and all three siblings passed away at Auschwitz. His father survived until liberation but passed away immediately after. Entire families were often killed during the Holocaust, so the stories I’ve heard about my grandfather’s direct family being killed are not surprising.”
In 1945, Alter’s grandfather was liberated from Auschwitz at a time when approximately 300 prisoners were dying each day from starvation. As an orphaned 17-year-old, he made his way to Hungary, where he had relatives. After that, he immigrated to the U.S. to start a new life.
“My grandfather was liberated from Auschwitz by the U.S. Army—they saved his life,” Alter said. “And over 75 years later, I’m working for my grandfather’s liberators. Isn’t that pretty awesome?”
After explaining what the Holocaust was and why it happened, Alter moved on to why it is so important to be educated on it.
“You often hear the phrase ‘never forget’, but it goes further than that,” Alter said. “If all we’re doing is not forgetting, we may be left living in the past. We should carry these lessons forward and use them to influence the future.”
Alter then gave examples of his personal recommendations for how to move forward. From learning and critical thinking to choosing positive actions, he suggested ways everyone could contribute to making the world a better place.
“Someone in the U.S. Army saved my grandfather—that positive act means that I am here today,” he said. “Do something to stand up for one person. One positive act can be all it takes to change the world.”
“Holocaust Remembrance Day is recognized around the world. We do this in memory of the millions of souls that were lost, and we do this to honor those who survived,” said Dr. Joe Corriveau, director of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. “We also do this because we have to continue to work together for a better, freer and more just world for humankind. This is an important day for us on so many levels as members of humanity.”